Chèvre (pronounced "SHEV-ruh" or sometimes simply "SHEV") is the French word for a female goat, but in the culinary arts, it refers to any French cheese made from goat's milk. Some varieties bear the PDO label, verifying strict production standards. Since goat's milk contains less lactic acid than cow's milk, lactose-intolerant people often find they can enjoy chèvre without symptoms.
- Source: Goat's milk
- Aging: A few days to four months
- Texture: Soft and creamy to firm and crumbly
- Flavor: Tart and earthy
What Is Chèvre Cheese?
Formally called le fromage de chèvre, which literally means "the cheese of goat," chèvre can range from soft and creamy to hard and crumbly, depending on its age. Goat's milk (especially raw or unpasteurized) produces cheese with strong flavors and aromas, which vary according to the breed of goat and their diet; regional influences include climate, altitude, and other environmental factors. Presumably, the French feel comfortable referring to goat cheese simply as "goat," perhaps because goat meat rarely appears on menus in the country. In U.S. grocery stores, it's generally a mid-price cheese.
How Chèvre Cheese Is Made
Chevre begins with raw or pasteurized goat milk. Goat cheese descriptions often include statements such as "to be eaten from March to December." Unlike cows, which can be milked all year round, goats only produce milk for seven to eight months per year, with the majority between March and July. Considering that most goat cheese ages for only a few days to a few weeks (four months being the outside limit), it makes sense that it would be best during certain months of the year.
Added starter cultures and rennet encourage curds to form, which cheesemakers separate and drain before packing them into molds, which determine the shape of the final product. Most chèvre in the U.S. falls into the fresh or semi-soft categories, aging from a mere two days to a couple of weeks. Because cheeses made with raw milk must be legally aged for at least 60 days, goat cheese made in the U.S. nearly always come from pasteurized milk.
When chèvre ages, a number of changes take place. Fresh and young chèvre is soft, creamy, and spreadable, with a mild, buttery flavor and a color similar to cream cheese. The longer it ages, the drier and more crumbly it becomes, developing stronger, tangier flavors and aromas; the color deepens to a golden yellow. Aging also produces an outer crust called a rind, which may be washed with brine during aging to develop more flavor.
Any cheese with similar textural characteristics could technically stand-in for chèvre, though you won't be able to replicate the flavor with cheese from the milk of another animal as the distinctive tanginess comes from a fatty acid-specific to goat's milk.
Feta, a crumbly but creamy Greek sheep's milk cheese, makes a good option to replace chèvre. Instead of fresh chèvre, try ricotta, cream cheese, or mascarpone. Replace aged chèvre with similarly aged sheep or cow milk cheese for a compatible texture.
When incorporating chèvre in a cheese platter, start with the youngest, softest, mildest cheese and proceed to the strongest, driest, most mature cheese. Chèvre must be at room temperature to display its full range of flavors and aromas, so take it out of the refrigerator at least 30 minutes prior to serving time.
Arguably, the best way to enjoy chèvre is on a fresh French baguette with a glass of wine. A crisp Sauvignon pairs well with younger chèvre, and when aged, a woody chardonnay makes a good companion. A fruity red will complement a warmed goat cheese.
Chèvre softens but won't completely melt when you heat it. This makes it good to use in pasta dishes and on pizza. Depending on its age (remember, younger is softer), chèvre can be spread on crackers for making canapés, or used as an ingredient in salads.
With aged chèvre, you want an equal amount of rind with each serving. Cut rounds of chèvre into wedge-shaped sections (similar to pizza slices), slice cylinders into rounds, and portion pyramids into vertical wedges.
Store unopened chèvre in its store packaging in the refrigerator for up to three months. Once opened, you can keep a fresh chèvre in an air-tight plastic container for a couple of weeks. Wrapped aged varieties in parchment or wax paper, then the second layer of foil or plastic. You can freeze tightly wrapped fresh chèvre for a couple of months; thaw it slowly in the refrigerator.
Chèvre is a fairly easy cheese to make at home, provided you can get fresh goat's milk. You can marinate store-bought chèvre for versatile hors d'oeuvres or incorporate it into recipes spanning the meal, from appetizers to desserts.
Types of Chèvre Cheese
Young fresh chèvre is a creamy cheese with no rind; it's often sold in tubs or logs in the grocery store. It may come seasoned with peppercorns or herbs. Aged goat cheese becomes harder and crumblier depending on how long it's left to ripen; you often see it in wheels, and it may be coated in edible ash. It's possible to find many common varieties of cheese in a goat version as well, such as blue, brie, cheddar, and Gouda.